Photo credit: Anthony Ochieng

Partner organisation: Save the Elephants

Location: Kenya, Africa

On the edge of Kenya’s vast Tsavo West National Park lies Lake Jipe – one of the country’s most important wetlands and home to fish, hippos, crocodiles and unique birdlife. Migratory and water birds frequent its reedy shores; these include storks, egrets, pelicans, spur-winged plovers and many more. Jipe forms a biodiversity rich ecosystem.

Karibu Jipe ambapo tunaishi na ndovu” (Welcome to Jipe where we live with elephants)!

On the edge of the vast Lake Jipe, researchers uncovered a remarkable story in a local fishing village. This freshwater lake harbours a captivating secret between the local fishermen and the local elephants – a story of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.

At the heart of this story is Manolo, a wise bull elephant, who led the researchers to discover this beautiful example of coexistence between humans and nature. In 2018, Save the Elephants (STE) researchers gave Manolo a GPS tracking collar in the hope to gain insight into his movements, behaviour and interactions with the local community. As the elephants make daily visits to the lake to eat the reeds that grow near the shore, the collar showed them passing directly through villages and spending their day alongside the local fishermen.

The community of Lake Jipe interacts with elephants on a daily basis. Amongst the village’s playing children, women selling fish and courier bike riders, the elephants walk peacefully as they too belong there. It is quite a normal daily routine for the local community, who have granted these magnificent beasts safe passage borne out of mutual respect and tolerance that has been nurtured over time.

Research did find that the elephants occasionally disrupted their fishing activities; despite this the community has continued to uphold their respect, having never resorted to killing in retaliation.

When Zachary Mutinda, researcher at Save the Elephants, talked to the local community, one member described the elephants as ‘brothers’ … “They are our brothers, we know their timing, we know their behaviours and we live in harmony despite the threats to our livelihoods.

Fishermen in a boat with elephants in the background

Photo credit: Anthony Ochieng


Local communities and their attitudes towards nature are at the core of rewilding all across the world, and their relative success.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, STE’s founder, often says that the conservation of elephants will depend on how people feel and think about elephants – with their 2020 study being a step in the right direction. “We really have to find ways to promote coexistence, and understand the community perspective and the behaviour of the elephants,” said Douglas-Hamilton.

This expanding community is facing complex challenges as fishing, the main source of income, has declined substantially and the community is becoming more aware of the presence of elephants. As socioeconomic pressures rise, increasingly vulnerable livelihoods can lead to changes in the attitudes towards elephants – a threat to this wonderful coexistence.

Dr Lydia Tiller, STE’s Tsavo research manager and co-author of the study says: “A lot of people in the West really love elephants,” Tiller said. “But if we don’t understand the feelings of the people who actually live with elephants, whose everyday reality can be problematic elephants, then any interventions that we make will fail.”

As Mutinda says, “for now, Lake Jipe stands as a testament to the fact humans and elephants can coexist. It is a beacon of hope, urging us to strive for a future where such coexistence flourishes.” And crucially, this serves to highlight the vital element of rewilding: involvement of local communities and people.

You can read the full article here.

Wider impact

Save the Elephants works to secure a future for elephants. Specialising in elephant research, they provide scientific insights into elephant behaviour, intelligence, and long-distance movements and apply them to the challenges of elephant survival and harmonious coexistence with humanity. Local community involvement is at the core of their rewilding efforts.